July 17, 2010
Our Socialistic Constitution
By Shanu Athiparambath, from his blog here. Also published here.
A writ petition by an NGO challenging the insertion of the word “socialism” in the Preamble to the Constitution was rejected by the Supreme Court on Monday. Section 29 A (5) of the Representation of the People Act makes it mandatory that every political party in India should swear allegiance to socialism. It came into effect through the Constitution (42nd) Amendment Act, 1976. The preamble reads as follows: “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.” A political party which fails or refuses to do so will be rejected at outset. Senior counsel Fali Nariman argued that the 42nd Amendment had evolved during the Emergency period, and that it violated the basic structure of the Constitution. Nariman had said before that “It is contrary to the Constitution and to its democratic foundations that political parties be called upon to swear allegiance only to a particular mindset or ideology.” Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had opposed the inclusion of the word socialism in the constitution.
Surprisingly, Justice Kapadia said that till now, no political party had challenged the constitution, and that the Supreme Court will consider it when the time comes. Facts don’t support this statement. S V Raju of the Swatantra party applied for the registration of a political party vehemently opposed to Socialism, and his application was rejected. “Socialism is a form of economic engineering. The grievance in our petition was that the country did not allow us to participate in the electoral process without telling a lie and we did not want to lie.” he said. So much for the claim that the Indian constitution allows liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship! Whatever one thinks of democracy, it should be evident that this decree of the Supreme Court in not compatible with it. In the words of Ambedkar, “What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organized in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether. If you state in the Constitution that the social organization of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgment, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organization in which they wish to live. It is perfectly possible today, for the majority people to hold that the socialist organization of society is better than the capitalist organization of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organization which might be better than the socialist organization of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves.”
The chief justice said this while rejecting a petition in the past: “Why do you take socialism in a narrow sense defined by the Communists? In a broader sense, socialism means welfare measures for the citizens. It is a facet of democracy. It hasn’t got any definite meaning. It gets different meaning in different times.” All this is nonsense. The word socialism has a specific meaning. It is a political system in which all property is owned by the state. It has always been so. We should take terms in its precise sense, and see it for what it is. If the Supreme Court finds the problem purely academic, they would have no reason to include it in the constitution. The last resort of people who want to debase liberty and freedom of expression is that people no longer believes it these days! If so, why insist that people swear allegiance to it?
The Indian constitution guarantees justice and equality before law. Socialism fails on both counts. If the society should collectively own all property, it would mean that some are slaves, at least partially. It doesn’t mean equality before law, and hence fails the universalization test.
Let us look at the policies of the present Indian Government. It has accepted the major proposals of the communist manifesto like “A heavy progressive or graduated income tax”, “Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly” and “Free education for all children in public schools” lock, stock and barrel. They have implemented almost all the other demands too, to some extent at many points in its history. The Government had confiscated property of emigrants, partially centralized communication and transportation and imposed several such monstrous legislations without any qualms. Mines, banks and wholesale grain trade were nationalized during the period of Indira Gandhi. There is no point in fooling ourselves. India has a long history of socialistic policies which kept most of its population poor for six decades. This has to change if we are to achieve progress and a re-look at our constitution would be a right move towards it.